What Is Primary Care?

Primary care is defined by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine as “the provision of integrated, accessible health care services by clinicians who are accountable for addressing a large majority of personal health care needs, developing a sustained partnership with patients, and practicing in the context of family and community.” Essentially, primary care is the base of your healthcare – your first stopping point.

Table of Contents

Who Is a Primary Care Physician?

Primary care physicians are those in the medical profession who are qualified and experienced in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of a wide variety of diseases and injuries that affect the general public.

Primary care physicians provide comprehensive treatment, which implies that they are able to treat both chronic long-term disorders such as diabetes as well as acute problems such as chest infections, colds, and flu, and allergies. 

How Does Primary Care Differ From Other Medical Specialties?

PCPs have a comprehensive understanding of diseases and other conditions due to their training in a variety of medical specialties, including family medicine and internal medicine.

Your general health care is managed by these doctors, who draw on their familiarity with your past medical records to anticipate and prepare for any complications that may arise. In addition to diagnosing the majority of health symptoms and prescribing medications, primary care physicians offer a wide variety of forms of preventive care, such as cancer and STI screenings, vaccinations, and general physicals. 

While primary care physicians have a broad knowledge base, the management of specific illnesses or body systems is the primary focus of specialists. They collaborate with your primary care physician to deliver care that is based on their individual areas of expertise. If you have a problem such as cancer, heart disease, reproductive problems, or severe infections, you may be referred to a specialist.

Services Provided by Primary Care

Some of the services provided by primary care include:

  • Preventative services 
  • Disease diagnosis –  run lab tests and physical exams to diagnose some diseases and illnesses
  • Ongoing care for common illnesses
  • Care for chronic conditions such as arthritis or diabetes
  • Annual checkups
  • Screening and testing for age-related conditions such as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and diabetes
  • Referrals to specialists when required

Types of Primary Care Providers

There are four types of primary care providers. These are:

Medical doctor (MD)

  • Complete four years of medical school and three years of residency
  • Includes family medicine doctors and internal medicine doctors
  • Generally treat people of all ages
  • Use medication and preventative advice to treat common medical issues

Nurse practitioners (NP)

  • Provide services beyond those of a registered nurse
  • Can specialize in particular areas such as pediatrics, neonatal, women’s health, etc.
  • Can provide education, develop treatment plans, carry out physical exams, make referrals, and prescribe medication.

Physician Assistant (PA)

  • Practices medicine under supervision but in partnership with a doctor
  • Can diagnose injury and illness
  • Can prescribe medication
  • Can carry out physical examinations
  • Collaborate with other healthcare professionals

Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO)

  • The focus is on the physical and mental health of patients
  • Focus on the body’s ability to self-heal
  • Use their hands to examine various parts of the body for signs of impaired function or injury
  • Can choose between several specialties
  • Diagnose conditions
  • Prescribe medications
  • Perform surgery
  • Examine patients
  • Order diagnostic testing

What Are the Benefits of Primary Care?

There are thought to be several benefits to primary care, including:

  • Continuity of care: Having a primary care doctor who has treated you for everything from stomachaches to vaccines to blood pressure control gives you access to a health provider familiar with your medical history.
  • Convenience: You can access a wide range of medical treatments if you go to a primary care practice, including preventative care and screenings, care for chronic disorders like asthma, high blood pressure, and diabetes, and acute care for problems like coughs, gastrointestinal troubles, and fevers.
  • Health maintenance: Your primary care physician is in a position to assist you in preventing health issues. If the doctor examines you and reviews your medical history, they will be able to determine whether or not you are at an increased risk for conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. If so, they can assist you in taking measures to reduce your likelihood of developing these conditions.
  • Early detection of illness and disease: Regular checkups and maintaining a relationship with a single doctor increase the likelihood that any potential health problems will be identified early when they are easier to treat.
  • Communication: Visits are less stressful and more effective for patients when they know their physician and the personnel working in practice. It is much simpler to discuss delicate topics with someone you already know in an environment that is comfortable for you than it is to do so in an unfamiliar situation with a stranger. 

What Are the Challenges of Primary Care?

As with anything, there are some challenges with primary care. These could include:

  • Less choice: Patients in certain areas may not reap the full benefits of primary care because they do not have access to the primary care physician who is most ideally suited to meet their requirements. This is because there is a discernible dearth of choice in certain areas.
  • Inconsistency in quality: There is a considerable variation in the quality of primary care provided by various practitioners and locations. 
  • Reactive treatment instead of proactive treatment: Many management decisions are still being made in a reactive rather than a proactive manner. Several issues could be avoided if proactive decision-making was more prevalent.

When to See a Primary Care Physician?

  • For annual exams, undergo a health screening, immunizations, or general concerns about your health
  • If you are feeling generally unwell. Your primary care doctor can take a look at you, order tests, and prescribe medication
  • For care of chronic conditions such as diabetes or asthma
  • After an accident or an injury, even if it is just to find out what to do next.

What Is Virtual Primary Care?

That is the same as going to a primary care office in person, either over the phone or in a video chat, so that you may think of it as the digital equivalent. VPC is a cutting-edge way to provide medical care. 

It combines the benefits of telehealth technology with a strategy that focuses on building and keeping solid relationships between patients and their primary care clinicians. The ultimate goal is to get the best results for patients while also getting around the problems of an in-person visit.

Try Virtual Primary Care!

If you are looking for a more convenient and affordable way to receive health care, virtual primary care may be the perfect option.

With DrHouse, you can access experienced and certified clinicians who are available to provide comprehensive primary care at any time of day. Our online doctors are available 24/7 and you can connect with one in less than 15 minutes!

FAQ

What Is the Definition of Primary Care?

Primary care is defined by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine as the provision of integrated, accessible healthcare services by clinicians who are accountable for addressing a large majority of personal healthcare needs, developing a sustained partnership with patients, and practicing in the context of family and community.

What Is the Purpose of a Primary Care Physician?

Primary care physicians explain what type of care is required, why it is required, and how frequently appointments should be scheduled. They provide proper preventative health care, such as vaccines, and can refer patients to specialists when necessary, as well as coordinate care with other health care practitioners.

What Are Some Examples of Conditions That Can Be Treated in Primary Care?

Examples of conditions that can be treated in primary care include high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and anxiety, respiratory infections, UTIs, allergies, and skin conditions. Primary care physicians can also provide vaccinations, rehabilitation services, as well as advice on nutrition and lifestyle habits to improve health outcomes.

How Is Primary Care Different From Specialty Care?

While primary care physicians have a broad range of knowledge, specialists focus on the management of specific illnesses and/or body systems. They collaborate with your primary care physician to deliver care based on their individual specializations.

How Can I Find a Primary Care Provider?

Those looking for a primary care doctor can start by asking friends and family for recommendations. They can also contact a medical school or a local hospital and inquire about a specific department, such as pediatrics, internal medicine, or family practice.

What Is the Importance of Primary Care in Managing Chronic Diseases?

Screenings, examinations, monitoring and coordinating treatment, and patient education can all be part of regular appointments with your primary care physician to help you manage your chronic illness.

Key takeaways

  • Primary care should generally be your first port of call for all things medical.
  • Primary care consists of a range of medical professionals –  medical doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and doctors of osteopathic medicine.
  • You should see your PCP at least once every three years, more often if you are over 50.
  • Virtual primary care is an increasingly popular alternative to face-to-face care.

Sources:

  • Bodenheimer T, Wagner EH, Grumbach K. Improving Primary Care for Patients With Chronic Illness. JAMA. 2002;288(14):1775–1779. doi:https://www.doi.org/10.1001/jama.288.14.1775 
  • Klabunde, C.N., Ambs, A., Keating, N.L. et al. The Role of Primary Care Physicians in Cancer Care. J GEN INTERN MED 24, 1029–1036 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11606-009-1058-x
  • J Rogers and P Curtis, 1980: The concept and measurement of continuity in primary care. American Journal of Public Health 70, 122-127. Available from: https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.70.2.122
  • John Heritage and Douglas W. Maynard. Communication in Medical Care – Interactions between priamry care physicians and patients. 
  • Thomas Bodenheimer and Hoangmai H. Pham. Primary Care: Current Problems And Proposed Solutions. Health Affairs 2010 29:5, 799-805. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2010.0026
  • Caitlin R. Finley, Derek S. Chan, Scott Garrison, Christina Korownyk, Michael R. Kolber, Sandra Campbell, Dean T. Eurich, Adrienne J. Lindblad, Ben Vandermeer, G. Michael Allan. What are the most common conditions in primary care?. Canadian Family Physician Nov 2018, 64 (11) 832-840. Available from: https://www.cfp.ca/content/64/11/832.short 

Content on the DrHouse website is written by our medical content team and reviewed by qualified MDs, PhDs, NPs, and PharmDs. We follow strict content creation guidelines to ensure accurate medical information. However, this content is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information read our medical disclaimer.

Always consult with your physician or other qualified health providers about medical concerns. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it based on what you read on this website.

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